For the last few years, the story of Wimbledon Men's Singles has always been the Big Four and the Rest. It has been a total domination by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, who shared between them all the titles since GoranIvanisevic's surprise victory in 2001. Only on three occasions have anybody outside the Big Four featured in a final. It was therefore widely predicted that in 2017 also two of the top four will feature in the final with a Federer-Nadal contest very much on the cards. But that is not to be. Except the indomitable Swiss Roger Federer, all the other three failed to reach the last four. The Final will be played between the seven-time Wimbledon title holder Federer and the 7th seed Croat Marin Cilic.
Roger Federer is yet to lose a set in this year's championship and the 35-year old Swiss will be playing his 11th singles final in Wimbledon which adds to many Wimbledon records already in his bag. After Ken Rosewall, he will be the second oldest man to play in the final at the All England Club and if Federer lifts the coveted trophy again he will have the distinction of being the oldest men's singles champion in Wimbledon in the Open era at 35 years and 342 days. With eight Wimbledon titles, Roger Federer will be the holder of the most singles title of the most prestigious tournament surpassing the records of the likes of Pete Sampras and William Renshaw.
But how does Federer continue to accomplish such success? This is a question often asked by tennis enthusiasts. When he lost to Milos Raonic in last year's Wimbledon and failed to reach the final, he took an admirable decision to take a six-month break and give his injured knee some rest. The result was astonishing; he came a back a much rejuvenated player and bagged his 5th Australian Open title in January and after that won 4 of the 6 tournaments he played this year. After winning the Australian Open, he again decided to skip the clay court season and came back to Wimbledon, which many think is his favourite Grand Slam tournament, fully fit and raring to go. Federer is quite a master in keeping himself fit as he ages into the mid-thirties.
As regards the other three of the Big Four, it was sad to see Rafael Nadal, who always had bittersweet relationship with Wimbledon, bow out to Gilles Muller of Luxemburg in a thrilling five-setter that lasted for 4 hours and 48 minutes, the final set lasting 2 hours and 15 minutes with a score of 15-13. Nadal once again failed to reach the quarter finals in Wimbledon. Novak Djokovic had to bring in his physio to the court side to look into his injured elbow and in the quarter final against Tomas Berdych, he completed the first set losing in a tie-breaker but was forced to retire hurt at 2-0 down in the second.
Top seed and defending champion Andy Murray was surprisingly beaten in the first round at Queens and it was reported that he had suffered a hip injury. But he was determined to carry on with the defence of his title and he did manage to reach the quarter finals and many thought that he has been able to overcome the injury. In the quarter final against the American Sam Querrey, he did take a 2-1 set lead but the injury was so telling that he could hardly move and lost the last two sets 6-1, 6-1. Both Djokovic and Murray will have to take long breaks from tennis with the former expected to be out for the rest of the year though Murray could make an earlier comeback depending on the type of surgery he might have to undergo.
Federer's opponent in the final, Marin Cilic, played only 2 matches lasting more than 3 sets - one a five-setter in the quarter final against Gilles Muller, the conquerer of Rafael Nadal, and a four-setter in the semi-final against Sam Querrey, who beat Andy Murray in the last eight. Although Federer has 6-1 lead against Cilic, he did lose against the Croat in a major tournament. That was a big victory in the semi-final of the US Open in 2014 when Cilic won his only Grand Slam title. They also met in the quarter final in Wimbledon last year and Cilic took a 2-0 set lead and then squandered two match points to lose by 3-2 sets. The victory against Federer in 2014 showed that Cilic is capable of performing on the big stage he has the belief that he can do it.
One must remember that this is Cilic's first Wimbledon final, after a decade of trying, where he is seeded 7th. No player seeded No. 7 has reached the Wimbledon men's final in the Open era and unlucky No.7 has made it this time. But Federer is in such a tremendous form that it will take a mammoth task to get the better of him in Wimbledon this Sunday. There is no doubt that world No. 6, Marin Cilic is capable of giving a much better fight against Federer than other opponent the Swiss had to face so far. But it is so difficult even to start thinking that the greatest tennis player of all time will not succeed in adding to his astonishing tally of Grand Slam trophies. Tennis fans will definitely wish for an exciting and well-fought contest but at the same time will also be happy to see Federer add to his great haul of 18 Grand Slam titles.
The writer is a senior journalist, political commentator and sports analyst
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